What is Headspace?

Headspace is Amber Marks's satirical account of her research into the policing of smell - she uses developments in smell research as an allegory for the surveillance society. Amber was working as a barrister when she started spotting sniffer dogs on her travels to courts in different parts of the country. Disturbed by the implications for civil liberties (who needs a warrant when you've got a dog) and cynical about the supposed infallibility of canine intelligence (barking up the wrong knee), Amber started researching the phenomenon. To her amazement she discovered that across the world, people are being convicted on the word of a dog alone - despite the science of smell (the fascinating history and advances of which are all included in this book) being very poorly understood. As a legal expert on canine evidence, Amber is invited to a Ministry of Defence conference where the security applications of mice, moths, salmon and plants are discussed. That's when Amber's research journey really begins.

Q & A with Amber:

Why did you call the book "Headspace"?

Quite a lot in the book is about the importance of pscyhological privacy to human liberty and autonomy. Headspace - in 1960s jargon- means psychological privacy, the cognitive shed required for the development of an individual personality. When an entomologist told me that 'headspace' is also the technical term for the area surrounding a subject in which their smell can be detected and analysed - I knew it had to be the title of my book.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed everything about it. I enjoyed befriending security agents, police officers and scientists (they have all taken the fun I poke at their research in good humour). I enjoyed researching all the novels relating to the sense of smell (Perfume, Jitterbug Perfume, Brave New World, Oryx And Crake and millions of others) and learning about the science of smell. It was a great excuse to read Arthur Koestler's Ghost in the Machine and learn about bee brains and the manipulation of instinctive behaviour.

What is Dogwatch?

Dogwatch is the name of a secret organisation in Amber's book. It monitors potential threats to Headspace and seeks to inform people of their rights in these confusing times. It is presently focused on developments in surveillance, forensic science, less than lethal weapons, the militarisation of biology and the science of smell. Membership is easy- just send your findings to Amber and automatically become a member!

The future of family pets...

Sniffer dogs in teenage bedrooms
BBC News

Police drug dogs are trained to hunt the smell of drugs
Retired sniffer dogs that have spent years on police patrol are now working in the private sector in the US - sniffing out teenagers' bedrooms.
Parents can rent a dog and handler for $200 (£125) an hour from Sniff Dogs, a firm operating in New Jersey and Ohio.
The dogs are highly trained and can detect illegal drugs.
The company says the animals can smell marijuana from up to 15 feet away (5m) and residue on clothing from drugs smoked two days earlier.
The dogs sit when they detect the drugs but they leave the final inspection to the parents.
Discreet service
The company was founded by a mother of two sons, who was surprised to find her oldest son smoking marijuana.

I trust my kids, but you only can trust them so far. They're kids, young adults, they're going to make [a] mistake
Pat Winterstein, mother
Sniff Dogs claims to offer a "discreet service" that avoids the confrontation that comes from drugs tests because the search can be carried out without the knowledge of their children.
The company cites statistics showing half of American schoolchildren have tried marijuana and that most drug taking takes place when they get home from school.
Pat Winterstein from Washington, New Jersey decided to use the service to search the bedrooms of her three children.
"I trust my kids, but you only can trust them so far. They're kids, young adults, they're going to make (a) mistake," she told ABC news.
Critics claim that the service could be invasive and may break down family trust.