Weaving fiction into fact

I think about this too much, and have a feeling that there’s an obvious answer to my question that I just can’t see, through lack of experience or muddy thinking. Here’s the question, as simply stated as I can make it:

The setting for a crucial part of my story is a well-documented event. I know the timings, and the names of the people involved. The event was local and sixty years ago, and it’s therefore quite likely that local readers will know those who were involved, and could even be those very people. My fictional person, a key character in the story, is being woven into this event. Do I use the real names of the other people involved, or invent fictional names for them?

I know: it sounds so petty. Who cares? But I still can’t decide. If I use the real names I feel I should also use their real appearance, their real speech, and so on. If I use fictional names I have more latitude, and am less likely to misrepresent the person or offend those who knew him – all the people involved were male. For those reasons I’m tending towards the fictional names.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the dilemmas of writing recent historical fiction and making it sound authentic, especially in a region like this where society is relatively stable and people have really long memories. Does Hilary Mantel worry about this? Is it easier if your real characters lived four hundred years ago?

Answers to my question on a postcard please. Thank you.

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